"We're going to have to cut any spending that we can afford to do without," Obama said in a speech on education at Kenmore Middle School, in Arlington, Va. But, he said, "we can't be reckless, and we can't be irresponsible about how we cut. We can't cut education. We cannot cut the things that will make America more competitive."
High-profile education programs have already taken a hit in the stopgap spending measure now funding the federal government. And the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has shown support for slashing Pell Grants, Head Start, Title I grants to districts, and money to turn around low-performing schools.
Obama's vow to preserve education funding came with a call for Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act before the start of the next school year.
He said that more than 80 percent of schools will be labeled as failing under the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a figure that many critics, including traditional administration allies, have disputed. Obama held up the school he was speaking at, Kenmore Middle School, as an example of one campus that will be labeled a failure even though "Kenmore is thriving. You've got more work to do, but you're doing fine," he said.
The school has not met the law's achievement targets in reading and math for black and Hispanic students, and students with disabilities. And the only student group meeting proficiency in math is white students.
Obama repeated many of the ideas in the administration's blueprint for revising the ESEA, released almost exactly a year ago. He said that teachers need to be supported and paid like professionals. And he said that the federal government needs to challenge states to set standards that prepare students for college or a career. He also said the federal government must reward schools for boosting student achievement.
UPDATE: Obama may be hoping for a bill by the end of the school year, but a key Republican signaled that Congress may need more time to craft the legislation. "The president's remarks affirm the importance of fixing the nation's broken education system," said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. "We need to take the time to get this right—we cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms that encourage innovation, flexibility, and parental involvement."
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, commended Obama for his "continued leadership in the push to fix the No Child Left Behind Act." He said his committee is "moving forward on the many areas of bipartisan consensus we've found."
Photo: President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after speaking at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., on March 14. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)